Planetary Protection: December 2020

Today, the National Space Council released the National Strategy for Planetary Protection. This Strategy will advance the Nation's role in the sustainable exploration of space by appropriately protecting other planetary bodies and the Earth from potentially harmful biological contamination from space exploration activities.

Planetary protection refers to the policy and practice of protecting scientific investigations by limiting biological contamination of other planetary bodies and protecting the Earth's biosphere by avoiding harmful biological contamination by returning spacecraft. This national strategy balances U.S. interests in promoting scientific discovery, human exploration, and the growth of private sector space activities, all with due consideration for public safety and applicable domestic and international obligations.

Under U.S. policy and international treaty, the goals of planetary protection are to avoid both adverse changes in Earth's environment caused by introducing extraterrestrial matter and harmful contamination of solar system bodies in order to protect their biological integrity for scientific study. The United States has long cooperated with other countries and relevant scientific communities through the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) of the International Council for Science in developing planetary protection guidance for different categories of space missions. In the past, achieving planetary protection objectives through science-based, international-consensus guidelines proved relatively straightforward because a small number of spacefaring nations explored the solar system, predominantly through government-led and scientifically focused robotic missions.